What happened yesterday in Annapolis could happen in any newsroom in any community.
Like the Capital-Gazette, we’ve been sued for printing a police report about a local man’s arrest. The lawsuit against us, like the suit brought by the suspect in yesterday’s mass shooting, was dismissed.
Like every other reporter I know, I’ve been screamed at and cursed at and called all sorts of names for reporting the news in my community.
This has never been an easy job. It requires a willingness to work very long hours, often seven days a week, for what amounts to a subsistence income, a willingness to put up with public criticism and derision nearly every day of your life, and the ability to take it on the chin and get back to work.
That’s what you do when you believe in your mission. And no one does this job unless they believe in the mission.
What is that mission? What motivates reporters to do this work?
A loyalty to the pursuit of truth. An dedication to facts. A desire for justice.
The knowledge that without courageous reporters, editors and publishers, truth, factuality and justice will be subverted by power, greed and corruption. Every time. Without fail.
And compassion for others — the kind of compassion that makes us want to tell the stories of people’s lives, the stories of the community we live in. The kind of compassion that makes us want to fight for the pursuit of truth, factuality and justice.
So we are here, working, in small towns and big city neighborhoods all across this country. Sitting through countless hours of boring government meetings. Researching in courthouses and government offices. Sifting through reams of paper and thousands of web pages. Spending hours, days, weeks and months trying to get the facts and arrive at the truth. Asking questions — often asking questions that people with power over the lives of the rest of us really don’t want to answer. Learning how to recognize the disassembling, obfuscating and lying that’s sure to follow. And having the courage to call them on it.
In between, we’re out there covering the chicken barbecues, 5K races, graduation ceremonies, ribbon-cuttings, fundraisers and street festivals that make this place a community.
And then an item in a police report enrages the wrong man. A man who perceives himself as being denied justice by the courts. A man with a grudge — and a gun.
I don’t know what Captial Gazette journalists Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara were working on yesterday when the gunman shot his way into their newsroom. But I do know these veteran newspaper people — all in their 50s and 60s, by the way — were driven by the same mission that motivates me and every other local news reporter. It’s not money, or job security, or fame or even simple appreciation — because those things don’t come with being a local news reporter.
They were motivated to be where they were, doing what they were doing by their loyalty to the pursuit of truth, a dedication to facts and a desire for justice.
They wouldn’t have been in that newsroom otherwise.